My recent post on The Teacher Salary Project drew lots of attention and a bunch of interesting questions from readers that have challenged my thinking.  I figured I’d take a few minutes to respond.

The conversation started when Nate asked:

I have one question/concern:Where will the documentation for impact come from? If it is standardized testing, then I take issue. I have no problem being accountable for what I do in my classroom space. However, if I am to be represented by one series of tests on one given day that may cover a huge range of material, then I am not for it.

For me, Nate, documentation of the impact that teachers have on student achievement must absolutely move beyond our current over-emphasis on standardized tests as measures of accomplishment—and I think the good news is that the majority of parents and community leaders realize that standardized tests are limited in usefulness at best.

Over time, I think we’ll see more sophisticated measures of teacher performance developed that include surveys from parents and students, action research projects where teachers document the impact of their own performance and some form of peer review.

One thing to remember, though, is that standardized testing will likely always be a part of every evaluation program.

Tests are one of the few objective measures of performance—for schools, teachers and students—and while they should never be used in isolation, we would be narrow-minded to believe that they can be thrown away.  Instead of arguing against testing completely, we should be helping to outline more comprehensive measures of performance that begin with testing but include additional indicators that are not currently considered.

Then, Matt asked:

While I think your three general goals are worthy and appropriate, I wonder whether throwing things out and starting from scratch might not be a better approach. I will admit that a “brand new, never been tried approach” is unlikely to result from your group’s efforts, to be honest nothing in your proposed goals is all that radical. In essence I don’t think any of these ideas is new nor really that far from adoption.

I think the time is here to be absolutely radical in our approach to teacher compensation. What truly fresh ideas are out there? What about individual contracts (a pain to administer to be sure, but what are the benefits). Teacher A contracts with School Z for a three year contract worth $140,000 over three years.

These are brilliant ideas, Matt—and ones that I could definitely get on board with.  I think that individual contracts for teachers are the kinds of progressive ideas that can give both teachers and taxpayers more confidence in alternative compensation plans for educators.  As a teacher, what I like the best is having the opportunity to control my salary based on my performance.

It burns me to read about the 35 year veteran who makes twice as much as I do, yet works half as hard.

The only hitch is that I don’t think such a progressive and complete change will be possible within the current public school system.  As Clayton Christensen and company argue in Disrupting Class, significant innovations in large industries are difficult at best to pull off because they fight against hierarchies that are threatened by new changes.

Which is why charter schools can—and should—begin making these kinds of progressive changes.  With flexibility that the public schools just don’t have, new compensation models can be polished and perfected in buildings that work beyond the current system and then adopted and embraced on a larger scale over time.

I’ve often worried about charter schools, thinking that they were the enemy of public schooling.  My thinking is changing, however.  Instead of seeing charter schools as threats, public school systems should see them as hot-houses for change that can be used to experiment with new instructional approaches, school structures, and visions for the profession.

My girl Carly wrote:

A competitive salary is the FIRST place to start to make teaching more attractive.  THEN work on performance pay.

This is the central argument that has surrounded teaching salaries for decades, isn’t it.  The problem is that our profession has made no efforts to differentiate when talking about “competitive salaries,” have we?  Teachers who work in challenging high needs districts in working conditions that make me cringe get paid the same amount of money as teachers working in suburban schools like mine.

Teachers who do little to nothing to reflect on their craft get paid the same amount of money as those of us who read, write and reflect all the time.  “Competitive” is subjective in every profession except for ours because we assume that years of experience translates into effective performance.

And that just ain’t true!

Now don’t get me wrong:  The reason that we struggle to get starting salaries that resemble the starting salaries of other professions with similar entry requirements is because the general public has almost no clue how hard our work is.  There is a false transparency to teaching that makes what we do look easy to outsiders—and therefore decreases the value of what we do.

But it is time that we start to rethink the consequences of our own willingness to overlook the inherent differences in our work situations and abilities.  Until we’re willing to admit that all teachers and school communities are not created equally—and therefore don’t deserve the same compensation for similar positions—we’ll lose credibility in the eyes of the general public.

Devlin wrote:

Special attention should be paid to the pay scale plight of Alternate Route teachers. Many of us bring years (even decades) of meaningful work experience into our classrooms, yet we are required to start at the same “fresh out of college” level on the salary guide as recent graduates entering their first full time jobs

Our nation’s need for Alternate Route teachers has always been interesting to me when thinking about new models for teacher compensation.  After all, Richard Ingersoll’s research has shown that there are actually more certified teachers in America than there are teaching positions.

Translated:  If we could keep certified teachers in the classroom, we really shouldn’t need Alternate Route teachers at all.

Which makes it even more important to redefine “compensation.”  What if we began to consider additional opportunities for job-embedded professional development on the clock as a form of compensation?  How about additional housing benefits or retirement benefits?  What if state universities offered free tuition to teachers or to the children of teachers?

What if we created a menu of compensation options that teachers could choose from when designing individual contracts?  The kinds of “benefits” that I might find attractive as a mid-career teacher about to have his first child are not necessarily the kinds of benefits that new teachers or teachers close to retirement might find attractive.

Introducing flexibility in compensation models might just help us to retain some of the certified teachers that flood out of classrooms every year.

Bob wrote:

And, your suggestion helps to overcome the self-serving aspect of teacher proposed pay schedules.

Gotta love Bob’s reference to the “self-serving aspect of teacher proposed pay schedules!”  Exactly how self-serving is a salary schedule that starts thousands of dollars below the salary schedules for other professionals with similar levels of education, grows by a few hundred dollars a year for decades, and then ends tens of thousands of dollars below the top salaries in other professions requiring similar levels of education?

I think what you’re missing, Bob, is that the majority of young teachers are not attracted to the single salary schedule that continues to define our profession.  We don’t see it as self-serving at all and we’re working to drive changes that have been resisted for decades—both because the existing salary schedules are inadequate for retaining accomplished teachers and because we want to have the kinds of opportunities to control our compensation that are offered to our peers in other professions.

Your self-serving argument may apply to the 30-year union rep who has fought long and hard in district negotiations over decades.

It doesn’t apply to the new graduate entering education today.

And Adam wrote:

I am happy to hear that you are on this committee because I am part of the 50% that leave before five years because I had to work four jobs to support my family. As you approach this task we also need to think about what we can do to encourage great teachers to stay as close to the classroom as possible.

This is definitely an area of interest for me, Adam.  As most Radical readers know, I’m almost always contemplating a move beyond the classroom.  My wife and I are on the edge of adopting our first child, and while my current salary is enough to allow us to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle without children, we really don’t have the wiggle room necessary to continue to live a middle class lifestyle once we adopt.

I’m actually truly panicked about how we’re going to swing daycare, diapers and health care for our child!  The money is just not there—and I already work 4 different part time jobs!  What I always remind myself, though, is that I only work 10 months a year in the classroom.  If I were a 12-month employee, the two additional months of my salary would make that middle class lifestyle possible.

That’s why I think hybrid roles for teachers are so important.  While not every educator would be interested in picking up two additional months worth of work in order to make ends meet, many would jump at the opportunity—and remain in the classroom as a result.

We’ve got to break the mindset that “teaching” means 10 months and begin to rethink how we use positions beyond the classroom.  Why can’t we divide long-standing district or state professional developer positions into 2 or 3 month “chunks” and give those months to a team of 2 or 3 full-time practitioners who are interested in earning extra cash?

I feel like I’m rambling right now….Do any of my ideas make sense to y’all?

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